Back In Touch

 

Back In Touch
I’m getting to know my son after 14 years apart.

I felt extremely bad about myself as a parent when I came to prison. As a teenager I had really wanted a son. Once he was finally born, I was arrested and left him. Now, 14 years later, I still regret every day that I am not the parent that my son needed.

I have a few good memories of my son. When I held him he would stop crying. I loved the way he drooled when I took his bottle out of his mouth. I also remember taking him to a carnival in Virginia, not long before I got locked up.

Paying the Price

I was arrested when I was 20 and my son was just 4 months old.

I left him home with his mother that day. I pulled out of the driveway with two friends in the car and drove for just half a block when the police came toward me in their car, head on. There were police in the car behind me, too.

When I stopped, they jumped out with their guns drawn. I pictured my son’s face at that moment. I had a really bad feeling.

I was sent to prison in February 1993. Soon his mother and I broke up, and she decided that it was best that my son and I not have a relationship while I was in prison. I begged to differ. I stayed persistent year after year, writing to her, attempting to establish a relationship with my son.

I never would’ve imagined that our separation would last for more than 14 years.

Determined to Mature

In prison I began to transform my life. I looked at my past mistakes and told myself that I was going to mature into a man and a responsible father. I dedicated myself to becoming educated and growing up so that, when given the opportunity, I could be the parent that my son deserved.

Other prisoners often tell me that I have been handling my situation the right way. Their words of encouragement help me to persevere.

At last, my persistence in trying to communicate with my son paid off. Not long ago, my son’s mother finally allowed him to come visit me. It was the first time since he was an infant that I’d ever held or hugged my son.

‘Shocked to See You’

That first visit was like an out-of-body experience. I was at work and the correctional officer called me and said, “You have a first-time visitor. Do you want to go on the visit?” He didn’t tell me who it was, and I was curious to know who might be coming to see me for the first time when I’d been locked up for more than 14 years. “Of course I want my visit,” I said.

In the visiting room, the officer told me, “Your visitors are in Row 4, Table 6.” I didn’t recognize the first man at the table, my son’s uncle.

Then I saw my son sitting with his head down on the table. Somehow, I recognized him immediately. My son is 6’ 2” and has short hair like me. His bone structure is so similar to mine. He has big dark brown eyes and a familiar blush. Our baby pictures look just alike.

Happy and Stunned

I was extremely happy and stunned, but I still found the voice to say, “How’s everything with you, Kharon?”

“I’m OK,” he said.

I asked him, “Can I have a hug?” He gave me a hug and we sat down.

“Kharon, how are you feeling right now?” I asked.

“Shocked to see you,” he said.

I told him, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Us Time, Finally

I had so much I wanted to tell him. I started from the beginning, from when I left him as a baby. Time wouldn’t allow me to express everything that I wanted to say on that day, however. When I returned to my cell I wrote him a long letter to say more about things we hadn’t had time to talk about.

I stayed up for most of that night thinking about our visit and how my son looked so much like me. I cried tears of joy for finally being able to look my son in the face and hug him after so long. My heart was swollen with happiness.

On our second visit, we were communicating like close friends. I was surprised that he seemed to talk to me about any and everything. He didn’t hold back.

He even talked to me about girls—I couldn’t believe that! He also asked me where he’d gotten his height from, because he’s taller than both his mother and me. I couldn’t really answer that. Then he said, “You look just like me!” I said, “No, you look like me.”

I asked him to write all of his questions down. His letter made me so happy. He had quite a few questions for me, like: “What is your favorite color? What sports did you like to play when you were younger? Were you ever an ‘A’ student in school? Were you ever a ladies’ man?” That last question threw me for a loop.

He said he didn’t want to O.D. with the questions, but I didn’t mind. I’d been waiting for the opportunity to communicate and establish a relationship with my son. I was happy to see him opening up to me in such a short time.

Too Much Like Me?

Since our first visit, I’ve been able to see my son once a month through the Osborne Association, an organization that helps incarcerated parents and their children. I’m feeling really good about how Kharon and I are getting to know each other. I can see us building a beautiful father-and-son relationship.

But I also worry about my son. I see how he holds the same materialistic mindset that I had as a teenager. That mindset hurt me in my life, and I am scared of the influence the streets can have on a materialistic 15-year-old. Will it affect my son as negatively as it affected me?

Going to parenting class helped. I learned about teenagers’ typical behaviors, and I hope what I learned will help me steer my son the right way as I get to know him better. I talk to my son a lot about growing up and taking on the responsibilities of adulthood, and about being able to respect himself first before thinking about others respecting him. I want him to understand that the decisions that he makes now will affect his future.

The Happiest Father

At the end of the parenting class, I was privileged to have my son at my graduation. I gave a speech about my quest to establish a relationship with him. I was the happiest father on the planet that day. When I finished my speech, Kharon came up to the podium and gave me the biggest hug a son could give his father.

It has been more than nine months since my son and I got back in contact. I hope and pray that all goes well with my son while I continue my journey in prison, due to the bad decisions that I made when I was not much older than Kharon is now.

Reprinted with permission from Rise, a magazine by and for parents involved in the child welfare system. www.risemagazine.org.

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